Everybody’s cancer story is different. Here’s how we heard ours. That night of the Inauguration---when so very much about what it means to be American changed.
We’re walking downstairs into Cass and Jim’s basement rec room for the big family Inauguration Ball. Late from Maria having squeezed just a few more pennies from teaching extra classes and me tossing off another cover letter that no one will read; the snacks are almost gone but the beer chest is full.
The brand new life sized cardboard cut out of President Obama smiling "Welcome!" The TV blares the Neighborhood ball. Already, from sweet, gracious Samantha taking coats and handing out fancy printed menus and blue cone Obama party hats (which only Maria and I donned) I know our party is MUCH better than anything on TV.
Then from the other side of room with just the tiniest flick of his chin and the look in his eyes, a look that had Scorsese seen it while filming “Goodfellas” would have prompted him to yell “CUT!” and shout “Make sure we get THAT guy in the scene” pointing to M. Nunzio Cancilla ---world’s greatest character actor.
Because when you carry a name like M. Nunzio Cancilla---every scene must be done just right. And he does not disappoint. Think of how you’d notice Bogart or better yet DiNiro across a crowded room, even if he didn’t talk, and you get the idea.
So he motions us with his shoulder over to the side, by the bar for a conference with the other life sized cardboard cut out figure in the room; Michael Jordan.
He lowers his head, does a quick look around the room as if he’s Jimmy Cagney waiting for the coppers to storm the place, shoots his hand into the air and says:
“Everybody with no cancer to be found, raise your hand!”
“What? How? When? Stunned into a babbling incoherence. How could any news be this good?
Everybody’s cancer story is different.
And to speak or even think any differently sits square on the border between ignorance and cruelty. Science seeks out patterns. Symptoms are similar. There are types and levels. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
Everybody’s cancer story is different . . .because it’s yours.
No one else feels that wretched sleepless night pain pumping poison of the chemo doing battle on the very cells of your soul. No one else tastes your fear, cries your tears, and drains your self worth. And gets exactly as petrified as you by the coffin roaring MRI machine.
Every cancer story is different.
No one else bears the burden’s of all those who try to comfort and help.
From the prayers droned in unison in church as your name is read from a list. To the polite questions, the silly comparisons to other stories. The partner, who, like Trish does constant, full time battle with insurance giants flourishing their anonymous institutional coldness of indifference.
Every cancer story is different.
No one else knows the exact right times when you simply don’t want to talk. When the quiet benches built for you in forests of your mind by faraway friends who do not forget rise up and call: only you know when it’s time to take a nap.
Every cancer is story is different. Even the good ones, the one being told right now, on the night America changed. The cancer is in remission. There is today---no trace of it.
The neurologist still wants a CAT scan. But who knows. Maybe the neurologist didn’t catch the email from the oncologist. So today our cancer story is a good one.
Beers are grabbed. The Obama family chili bowl passed around. Cass having outdid her formidable party making skills tonight. OS’s youngest blogger E.V.O.O. is in the house so I can tell her how proud I am. And as she’s warned to not write like she’s texting I can share something even bigger than a rule: write about what’s important. And she did.
When it’s time to go there is a toast. Champagne for some. Tequila---the good stuff—for others. Everyone at the table gets a sip. A quick running gag when I say “Maria, don’t forget to bring our cheese” And then, amusing the grown-ups and grossing out the older kids, “Bring the cheese? What’s that, some kind of sex talk code?”
Who knew that brie came in tubes?
We haven’t had expensive cheese around the house in awhile. So kudos to Uncle Jim for being in the cheese business.
Every cancer story is different. This one good.
Outside into the grey snow, crisp and cold Chicago winter night. The blanket of stars so strong that they even cut through the glaring city lights. I'm on to the next task immediately, wondering if I’ll need to shovel out the car.
But Maria stops to look up. “Look, Orion!” she says. And after all these years I’ve learned to follow her lead and look too.
Every cancer story is different. I wonder if they’re different as the stars.
All the garbage, pulsating neon we toss up to the skies. Yet somehow, someway tonight that starlight just cut though it all and started sparkling.
As if the starlight somehow connected all the cancer stories. And in that connection a ray of light beams on every single cancer story. All of them different.
Starlight like hope.
Maria pointing out more names of more constellations I’ll forget in a moment; but the lyric from John Stewart asks a question and then sparkles like the stars:
And our good time starts and ends
Without dollar one to spend
But how much baby do we really need?
We walk the dark streets under the bright stars to the car.
And in the now darkened, empty basement.
The cardboard figure of Michael Jordan turns to the other cardboard figure, the one of President Obama.
And he gives him just the slightest, smiling nod.